Emissions Reduction Plan: Greenpeace says agriculture getting away 'scot-free'

Despite agriculture making up half of New Zealand's total emissions, there's a cow-shaped hole in Monday's Emissions Reduction Plan - there won't be a price on emissions from farms until 2025.

But hundreds of millions of dollars will go into research and development to help farmers cut pollution. Though, there's a catch. 

The reality of farming in Tairāwhiti in a world of increasing extreme weather is paddocks inundated and stock in peril.

Sheep and beef farmer Henry Hindmarsh is used to violent weather, but says so-called freak events have become frequent.

"It's the worst flooding I've ever had to deal with, I haven't seen anything like this," he says. 

Last month's onslaught of torrential rain damaged a third of his farm's hill country.

"We had to swim out, there were about a 1000 sheep on the flats that we had to rescue."

While farmers are the victims, they're also painted as the villains of climate change. 

Agriculture is the country's biggest emitter and on Monday ministers promised to price farmers' emissions by 2025 and support early adopters of low emissions practices.

"We will ramp up the reductions from agriculture in the second and third budgets," says Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor. 

Ramping up? Greenpeace thinks this plan looks more like buttering up to farmers, with reduction targets that lack ambition.

"The so-called Emissions Reduction Plan does nothing about agriculture, which is half of all our emissions. So agriculture and dairy get away scot-free," says executive director Russel Norman.

Take our three biggest polluting sectors. While Transport and Energy & Industry have smaller targets to meet by 2031-2035, agriculture is bigger and the percentage it contributes to New Zealand's total emissions increases over time.

In the first budget between 2022 and 2025, it contributes 54 percent. By the second (2026-2030), it's 63 percent, and by the third (2031-2035) it makes up a whopping three-quarters of total emissions at 76 percent. 

There is $339 million allocated to fund research and development to get emissions reduction technology like methane inhibitors into farmers' hands faster. 

But this will be paid for by the Emissions Trading Scheme, which agriculture doesn't contribute to, so other polluters will essentially subsidise that research for farmers. 

"We need to do this work and we need to get on with it," Finance Minister Grant Robertson says.

Farmers are pleased to see funding for technology as a solution to their pollution and Federated Farmers has an idea for the pricing mechanism for agriculture.

"If you're doing a lot of the good actions, then you face a very, I would hope, little or no price at all," says President Andrew Hoggard. 

No price at all for emissions yet, but farmers already counting the cost of climate change.